Monday, March 7, 2011

Recommended Reading: Suzanne E. Smith "Where Did Our Love Go? Contemplating the Life and Death of Motown and the Motor City" ~ Michigan Quarterly Review

Suzanne E. Smith's "Where Did Our Love Go? Contemplating the Life and Death of Motown and the Motor City" appeared recently in Michigan Quarterly Review and gives the writer room to "explain more specifically how [her] study of funeral directors and death grew out of [her] Motown research."

"During the era of Jim Crow segregation, funeral homes were often one of the few public spaces available to African Americans outside of the black church. For this reason, funeral directors regularly offered their homes for social gatherings, community organizing, and even weddings."

Touching on childhood memories, Smith reflects on her interest in how black funeral directors helped link members of black communities, especially Motown musicians, such as Florence Ballard and the Supremes.

Another fascinating discussion centers around the narrative of Detroit's "dying."

"July 24, 1967, of course, marked the first full day of rioting in Detroit's 'Great Rebellion,' which lasted over a week and has come to be seen—in popular collective memory, at least— as the first major cause of Detroit's 'death' as a thriving industrial city."

The piece concludes with Smith arguing that the death and what seems to have been a distracting funeral of Florence Ballard offer hopeful ideas about how Detroit might "reinvent itself by viewing its own supposed death in new ways." The essay's final anecdote features Charles C. Diggs, who envisioned a new kind of cemetery, which became "the first African American corporation in Michigan."

A very engaging, worthwhile read.

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